IPMI steps from the shadows of server monitoring tools

The Intelligent Platform Management Interface is possibly the most useful specification you've never heard of.

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Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) is a specification that few may have heard of, but many may come to appreciate because it will increasingly be embedded in servers.

"Server management is different for every vendor," said John Enck, server strategies vice president at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn. Servers run with proprietary hardware, firmware and software. "As a result, you have to learn all this different stuff -- different management consoles, different alerts," he said. "It is a real problem in companies

Dell would like Microsoft to take responsibility for the IPMI management so that you just run Windows.


John Enck, VP,

Gartner Inc.

,

that have multiple servers from multiple vendors."

Enter IPMI.

IPMI is a specification that allows IT administrators to manage their servers and monitor their health, temperature, voltage and power supply. "It's defining the interface between hardware and software so that you can write software to talk to a variety of pieces of hardware," Enck said.

The goal of IPMI is to allow administrators to use a single console to check the well being of their servers, regardless of who made the server or the processor that it runs.

"In a mission-critical environment, you need to keep your systems running all of the time," said Antonio Julio, senior manager with Dell Inc.'s PowerEdge Server marketing group. "This is a tool for IT managers to understand what is going on every single second to keep that system running.

"You cannot afford to have one system down and to create redundancy," he said. "You need to have tools that can predict any kind of failure."

Dell's eighth generation of servers support IPMI.

IPMI 2.0 released in 2004

Version 2.0 of the IPMI specification was released in June. That update included new features, such as enhanced authentication and encryption algorithms, serial over LAN for redirecting

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a baseboard serial port over an IPMI LAN session and new user login and configuration options.

Despite the new features, don't expect IPMI to become a household word any time soon, nor should you go out of your way to upgrade your server. Most enterprises will eventually wind up using IPMI because it will be embedded in next-generation servers.

"It's not surface stuff that you even see," said Enck. "This is all new stuff. It's becoming standard, but we're still in the early days of it. It's not important enough so that people should rush out and buy new servers with IPMI support. It's a very gradual evolution to get the system."

Hopefully, its evolution will make the life of the IT administrator a little less hectic. "They'll have one command and control point that they'll be able to use for all types of servers, and they don't have that today," Enck said.

The relationship between IPMI and the OS

While IPMI develops behind the scenes, vendors such as Huntsville, Ala.-based Avocent Corp. and software powerhouse Microsoft are creating software to interface with IPMI and allow for unified server management.

Operating systems do not yet have standard software that allows admins to monitor with IPMI.

"The question is, long term, should the OS be responsible for this management and eliminate entirely the software that we're talking about?" Enck said. "Dell would like Microsoft to take responsibility for the IPMI management so that you just run Windows. That would further level the playing field across all of the vendors."

However, he added, "It's going to take some time before we see full hardware management in the OS."

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